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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   133
the freight street-cars at the last voluntary-aid Sunday,
how hard it is to combine study with work at the base
hospital, and about the "airs" a certain stupid student,
not a nice girl at all, gave herself.
Gvozdev not only began to talk. He seemed to blossom
out and was soon well on the road towards recovery.
Kukushkin had his splints removed. Stepan Ivanovich
was learning to walk without crutches and could already
move about fairly upright. He now spent whole days at
the window, watching what was going on in the "wide
world". Only the Commissar and Meresyev grew steadily
worse as the days passed by. This was particularly the
case with the Commissar. He could no longer do his
morning jerks. His body assumed a sinister, yellowish,
almost transparent bloatedness. He bent his arms with
difficulty and he could no longer hold a pencil or a
In the morning the ward maid washed him and fed
him, and one could see that it was not the severe pain
but this helplessness that was depressing and tormenting
him most. But he did not become despondent. His bass
boomed just as cheerfully as before, he read the news-
papers with his former zest and even continued to study
German; but he was no longer able to hold his books
when reading, so Stepan Ivanovich made him a book-rest
out of wire and fixed it over his bed, and he would sit at
his bedside to turn the pages over for him. In the morn-
ing, before the newspapers came, the Commissar would
eagerly ask the nurse what the last communique was,
what news had been given over the radio, what the
weather was like, and what was heard in Moscow. He
obtained Vasily Vasilyevich's permission to have a radio
set extension fixed at his bedside.
It seemed as though the feebler his body grew the
stronger became his spirit. He continued to read the
numerous letters he received with unflagging interest and
to answer them, dictating to Kukushkin and to Gvozdev
in turn. One day Meresyev was dozing after taking some
treatment, but was aroused by the Commissar's thunder-
ing bass voice.
On the wire book-rest over his bed lay a copy of the
divisional newspaper which, in spite of the stamped